For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told by my family that I have a “nervous belly.” As a kid, if I stayed up too late, got upset, was overly excited, or was even just in a new environment, my stomach started to bother me.
I threw up a lot and found myself in plenty of embarrassing situations. (See: The time where I thought I was in trouble and hid beneath my bed, crying, only to inevitably vomit—which forced my poor grandparents to have to disassemble the entire bed to clean up after me.)
Through the years, my stomach troubles have changed in nature. I no longer feel like I need to throw up when I get upset, for example, but I have an incredibly sensitive digestive system that seems to tie directly to my moods. For example, when I’m depressed I become constipated and bloated. When I’m anxious, I get heartburn. One time, I was constipated for two entire weeks. I feared I might actually lose my mind.
The gut is often talked about as the place where our intuition comes from (“trust your gut”) and where we store our courage (“she’s got guts”). Another term used is “core”—the center of a thing, its toughest part. So it makes sense that gut health is tied to our overall wellbeing.
There are even studies that suggest our moods have to do with our gut health. According to the research, micro-organisms living in our gut actually secrete substances that regulate serotonin and dopamine. These both have a profound effect on our mood, including depressive and anxious feelings. In fact, one study out of Norway showed that certain bacteria were directly linked to depression in some patients.
This wasn’t always so obvious to me, however. In the beginning, I thought it was only a digestive system issue. Docs have tested me for food allergies, colon issues, intestinal blockage, IBS, and more. I didn’t have any of those problems or diagnoses.
When I recently visited a holistic doctor and explained my issues to her, I was happily surprised (and relieved) when she asked me about my emotional state (I wish more doctors would use this approach). When I explained that I could trace my gut’s reaction to my mood—sort of like a road map—she was excited that I was connecting the two, and that I was listening to my body.
The simple suggestion she made was to start a daily dose of probiotics and to track my gut progress with a journal. She told me to make sure I found a probiotic that included a high amount of lactobacillus rhamnosus, a live culture. I also started using chicory root extract, since she told me that chicory contains insulin, which helps grow good gut bacteria.
For the first week, I took my probiotic every morning but didn’t notice much of a change. My mood was fairly stable, but my bathroom cycles were slow—every other day or less—which for me is not ideal.
For the second week, I instead tried taking the probiotic at night, with some herbal teas like chamomile, rosehip, and peppermint—and that’s when it happened. I started to feel better and well rested. Amazingly, intestinal regularity slowly found its way to me.
I got to the point where I could expect to see movement almost every single morning, which in turn positively affected my mood. Mostly, I felt freed from worrying so much about my stomach constantly. I felt confident wearing clothes without considering extra bloat. My stomach felt lighter and my mind felt clearer. Not only was my mood influencing my gut, but now my gut health was directly influencing my mood. It was an enlightenment!
I’ve since tweaked the cocktail a bit to support a more restful sleep (which further improves my mood). I now combine a regimen of calcium, magnesium, and a probiotic about an hour before bed, and if I have time, I wash it down with herbal tea.
I can’t say things are always perfect, but they have vastly improved. More so, I believe that part of my recovery is feeling like I have some control over my symptoms. To have my doctor listen to me and then ask me to keep track of my gut-mood fluctuations felt so necessary and long overdue. Who better knows our moods and symptoms than ourselves?
When I wake up feeling rested, my mood and demeanor get right in line. These days, I don’t skip a day of my probiotics if I can help it. I need my core, the very toughest part of me, to be strong so I can face the day. A happy gut is a happy system.